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Better efficiency, some cost savings predicted
Tennessee: Sheriff looks to take over for-profit security.

By Michael Erskine
January 24, 2005

In Shelby County government buildings, a three-pronged security system helps keep employees, citizens and property safe.

County police officers secure building perimeters and hallways. Private security officers help man the entrances. And deputies from the Sheriff's Office handle security in courtrooms.

Sheriff Mark Luttrell is proposing to oversee all those security efforts in county buildings.

His office is poised in March to absorb the operations of the Shelby County Police Department and private contract officers, who currently answer to Mayor A C Wharton's administration.

Luttrell said he and Wharton agree that it makes sense for the sheriff -- the chief law enforcement officer in the county -- to oversee security in county buildings.

"With the concerns over homeland security now, government building security is paramount," Luttrell said.

"I'm suggesting that we put it all under the sheriff so that the sheriff can coordinate the security at all of those buildings."

Luttrell said some cost savings will be realized, "but really the thrust was not to go out and save money as much as it was to improve efficiency."

The county police department has about 35 employees, including officers, dispatchers and managers. It was created in 1996 as a security squad with police powers on county property. The police force, with an annual budget of about $1 million, also oversees the $1 million private security contract.

Ted Fox, the county's public works director, said continuing to have two chains of command with the sheriff and county police sometimes could prove difficult, especially at the Criminal Justice Center. "You don't have the coordination that you could have," Fox said.

Officials say no one is expected to be laid off, but some people could be reassigned. Vacant positions also could be eliminated, leading to cost-cutting.

"There will definitely be a savings for Shelby County," said Billy Ray Schilling, county police chief, who said there is some duplication in services.

The plan still requires County Commission approval.

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